Cambridge continues to voice concerns with state’s plan to move sex offenders to town

Cambridge city staff, as well as the Cambridge City Council, continue to voice concerns with the Department of Human Services’ plan to move low-functioning and medically needy clients of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program to a Cambridge facility in early spring or fall of 2014.

During the Cambridge City Council meeting Oct. 7, City Administrator Lynda Woulfe explained the city has requested further face-to-face meetings with Human Services and the governor’s office. Woulfe said the League of Minnesota Cities is helping to facilitate these meetings.

The department’s commissioner, Lucinda Jesson, has explained that she believes the Cambridge site of the Minnesota Speciality Health System can be repurposed to serve a group of clients of the Sex Offender Program.

Jesson has said this is part of a larger effort to develop alternative placements for clients who can be served safely in settings that are secure and supervised, but less restrictive, than the facilities at Moose Lake and St. Peter.

Jesson has said the Sex Offender Program team is currently supporting petitions of six intellectually disabled clients to transfer to the Cambridge site. She explained the clients range in age from their 40s to 80s.

Woulfe said, in further discussions, the state has indicated it may support petitions of more individuals in the future. The Cambridge facility is licensed for 16 clients and can serve to 48. Woulfe said the state can request an amendment to license more beds.

Woulfe wants city residents to know that state authority supersedes any local zoning ordinances, and the city only has authority to enforce building and fire codes.

“We are having our city attorney put together a memorandum on this issue, and we are continuing to research any legal options that may be available to us,” Woulfe said. “The Minnesota Health Speciality Systems has been serving a degree of low-functioning clients that have some interaction with criminal offenses. However, the clients the state wants to move here now are with the sex offender program.”

Woulfe said besides asking about any legal action the city can take to prevent this, most calls from residents have been with concerns about security, since the facility is located in a residential neighborhood.

Woulfe said residents want to see a razor wire fence around the entire facility and also want to see it higher than the current fencing that surrounds the facility.

Department of Human Services officials have said the sex offenders will be kept secure and under supervision at all times with GPS bracelets, and the site will be gated, along with surrounding chain link fences. They are also working on adding recording cameras, door alarms and a phone monitoring system at the facility.

“This facility is located in a residential area,” Council Member Howard “Howie” Lewis said. “Our future plans around this area never involved dangerous predatory offenders beings housed at this facility.”

Woulfe mentioned the Isanti County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution last week opposing the state’s plan.

“This is a political fight; this is a political issue,” Woulfe said. “We can look at passing a similar resolution to the one passed by the Isanti County Board, and we also have legislative advocates working on our behalf. Rep. Brian Johnson is on the committee who guides these discussions, and we are working on having a meeting with the governor. Resident Mara Renier is also working hard on collecting signatures for a petition opposing this plan. We don’t know if any measures we take will influence the state and Gov. Dayton, but we are trying. Technically, there is no legislative approval needed for this plan. I hate to say it, but this is really a political fight.”

Cambridge Mayor Marlys Palmer relayed her security concerns.

“I have huge concerns with security and how involved our police department will have to be,” Palmer said. “Will our officers need more training with this facility here? Another concern I have is with the economic development of the city. The state needs to know there are huge concerns with this.”

Lewis noted the state owns land around the St. Peter facility and wondered why they just can’t expand around that facility.

“If we make a big enough noise, maybe we can deter this from coming,” Lewis said.

Palmer encouraged citizen advocacy.

“The voices of the citizens will make a lot of difference on this, and we need to reach out to the people who are making the decisions on this plan,” Palmer said. “Unless we can convince the state another property is better for this, we will need answers for our citizens on their safety and quality of life, as well as the safety of our police department.”

Council Member Lisa Iverson said Dayton owes the community a visit.

“If he is working for us, he needs to come here and tour the facility and see its location in a residential neighborhood,” Iverson said. “He needs to come up and meet with us.”

Cambridge Police Chief Tim Dwyer said if the clients and program do come to Cambridge, communication will be of utmost importance.

“If this comes to our community, they need to have meetings with all our local law enforcement agencies,” Dwyer said. “My greatest concern is if this facility comes, they will not be able to follow through on their security plans. Security equipment is not cheap, and I’m afraid they will not be able to follow through on what they’ve promised us they will do.”

A Cambridge resident who lives near the facility told the City Council he moved to Cambridge from St. Paul when he was 17 to avoid situations like this.

“My wife was a victim of sexual assault from someone currently at the Moose Lake facility,” he said. “She is very distraught over this. This is not something I want in my backyard. These people are not clients — they are child molesters and rapists. There’s a reason they are civilly committed.”

Renier said residents opposing the state’s plan will have a chance to sign the petition Oct. 12 and Oct. 19 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Cambridge Farmers Market located near City Center Market in Cambridge.

Renier has also started a Facebook page, “Cambridge Citizens Concerned for Safety.” She explained the page will provide further notifications of days and times where people can sign the petition opposing the state’s plan. The page will also have instructions about getting your own petition to take around neighborhoods to collect signatures.

Cambridge residents opposing the plan were also encouraged to write a letter to Dayton. Letters can be mailed to: Office of the Governor, 130 State Capitol, 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155.